Democracies and Emergencies

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Elaine Scarry, Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University, talks about the ways modern democratic governments have undermined democracy by invoking the idea of emergency—they’ve bypassed constitutional provisions concerning presidential succession, the declaration of war, the use of torture, civilian surveillance, and the arrangements for nuclear weapons. In Thinking in an Emergency, Scarry looks at why citizens devalue thinking and ignore checks and balances on government power during emergencies, and offers rigorous, effective ways of thinking in times of crisis.


Elaine Scarry

Comments [8]

brian from brooklyn

my office building has several fire drills a year. One day, an alarm actually went off - nobody really knew what to do.

Jun. 29 2011 12:43 PM

In Israel EVERY apartment building, and every private house LEGALLY MUST have a hardened underground bomb shelter with steel door, which for ISraelis adds many tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of the home.

Jun. 29 2011 12:39 PM

The reason why Israel has always been "ambiguous" about the existence of a nuclear deterrence is, that if ISrael admitted it openly, as have India and Pakistan, then that would give all the Arab countries surrounding Israel the excuse to pull out of the NPT. One of the few excuses to leave the NPTreaty is if you are being threatened by a nuclear power. Since Israel has never admitted to being a nuclear power, the Arabs around it have no "smoking gun, " no proof of Israeli nuclear arms that would give them the legal right to withdraw from the treaty. Israel did not want to hand them the excuse, and so chose to be "opaque" about it.

Jun. 29 2011 12:33 PM
Sarah from LES

Who and where has she read that Iran HAS nuclear weapons? That's quite a statement.

Jun. 29 2011 12:32 PM
Howard from the Bronx

This is the parallel argument to Naomi Wolf's "Shock Doctrine" regarding economic policies. Crying "Emergency! emergency! Everyone to get out from the street!" because those in power want a free rein to do something that those who will be affected would not do.

Jun. 29 2011 12:25 PM

From Wikipedia - Barbary wars:

"On Jefferson's inauguration as president in 1801, Yusuf Karamanli, the Pasha (or Bashaw) of Tripoli, demanded $225,000 from the new administration. (In 1800, Federal revenues totaled a little over $10 million.) Putting his long-held beliefs into practice, Jefferson refused the demand. Consequently, on May 10, 1801, the Pasha declared war on the U.S., not through any formal written documents but in the customary Barbary manner of cutting down the flagstaff in front of the U.S. Consulate.[15] Algiers and Tunis did not follow their ally in Tripoli.

In response, "Jefferson sent a small force to the area to protect American ships and citizens against potential aggression, but insisted that he was 'unauthorized by the Constitution, without the sanction of Congress, to go beyond the line of defense.'" He told Congress: "I communicate [to you] all material information on this subject, that in the exercise of this important function confided by the Constitution to the Legislature exclusively their judgment may form itself on a knowledge and consideration of every circumstance of weight."[14] Although Congress never voted on a formal declaration of war, they did authorize the President to instruct the commanders of armed American vessels to seize all vessels and goods of the Pasha of Tripoli "and also to cause to be done all such other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war will justify."

Jun. 29 2011 12:15 PM
Mr. Bad from IL

Can the guest please discuss the false equivalency being made all across the media between rigorously waging lawful war(s) and isolationism? TRUE isolationism requires forsaking foreign alliances, mutual defense treaties and directly interfering in foreign trade - NOBODY on any side of these issues advocates the US unilaterally withdraw from NATO or the WTO or NAFTA etc. Why is demanding moral/legal accountability from our leaders (with regard to war powers) being equated with "Isolationism", which it clearly is not? Is this a pure propaganda principle for the warfare state?

Jun. 29 2011 12:15 PM

The fact is, that while I fully agree with the PRINCIPLE that only Congress should be allowed to declare war, in fact, as early as 1801 we were already fighting Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean who were taking our ships and sailors as hostages for ransom!

Americans by and large will not go to war unless attacked. When we were attacked on December 7th 1941, we were lucky to have two vast oceans that gave us the space and time to rearm and be able to counterattack. Even so, that war cost us half a million dead.

The creation of long range missiles, atomic bombs, and modern day terrorism often takes too long, and can become really dangerous when nukes may be involved.

Jun. 29 2011 12:13 PM

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